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Biden Is Making A Significant Nomination That May Benefit Unions
Joe Biden

Biden Is Making A Significant Nomination That May Benefit Unions

President Joe Biden intends to nominate union lawyer Gwynne Wilcox to the National Labor Relations Board, the federal body that shapes collective bargaining policy in the private sector, according to the White House on Wednesday.

The five-member board currently has a 3-1 Republican majority from the Trump administration, with Wilcox nominated for the one vacant seat; if confirmed by the Senate, the board would have a 3-2 Republican majority, with Biden having the opportunity to flip control to Democrats once the next seat opens in August.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a relatively obscure agency to most Americans, but it plays a critical role in labor relations, arbitrating disputes between unions and employers and determining whether certain workers are eligible to unionize. Although the NLRB is independent of the White House, the president has the authority to make nominations to the NLRB, which can significantly change how the law is interpreted.

Biden enraged Republicans when he fired the board's former general counsel, Trump appointee Peter Robb, as one of his first moves in office. The general counsel acts as a kind of prosecutor, bringing cases against employers or unions that may have broken the law. The separate five-member board acts as a kind of labor law high court, handing down decisions that can set or overturn precedent.

Employer-friendly policies enacted by Trump appointees to the agency are already giving way to more worker-friendly policies enacted by the Biden administration. If Wilcox is confirmed and Biden succeeds in flipping control of the board later this year, the board could hear cases that essentially reverse previous interpretations from the GOP majority.

In addition to firing Robb, Biden has waded into the Amazon union election in Alabama, delivering an unprecedented pro-union speech amid a high-profile organizing drive, and unions fully expect him to reshape the five-member board to promote collective bargaining.

The term of Trump appointee William Emanuel expires at the end of August, leaving Democrats with a bare majority in the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote, leaving them no room for error in confirming Biden's nominees.

Wilcox is a partner at the union-side law firm Levy Ratner, and she also serves as associate general counsel for 1199SEIU, a powerful New York-based union local of the Service Employees International Union. She previously worked as an NLRB field attorney in New York.

On Twitter, union-side attorney Brandon Magner noted that Wilcox would be the first Black woman to serve on the NLRB in a position requiring Senate confirmation.

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